UK Farm a Site for Student Learning

Visitors to Fasig-Tipton Company and the Kentucky Horse Park might have noticed the new stone walls and University of Kentucky insignia along Newtown Pike, but might not know what occurs behind those walls on UK's Maine Chance Equine Campus, the university's research and teaching farm in north Lexington. (Maine Chance is part of the collective North Farm complex that includes Spindletop Farm and provides a location for the equine health research conducted by Gluck Equine Research scientists.)

Before and after classes each day, a group of 10 students care for approximately 116 horses as part of UK's experimental breeding program. The Maine Chance property has been used as a working farm since the late 1800s. The University purchased the property from Elizabeth Arden in 1967 as an expansion opportunity for agriculture research and programs. The farm has been home to Kentucky Derby winners Aristides and Jet Pilot.

Although run as a commercial operation, Maine Chance's breeding program is designed to provide an opportunity for students to learn the day-to-day operations of a large breeding farm. In addition to maintenance tasks such as mucking and mowing, students have the opportunity to be involved with the horses from birth to the sales ring.

"On commercial farms, interns do a lot of 'grunt work.' They don't get the hands-on experiences they get here," farm manager Brittney Gamler said. "They get to help with foaling, taking mares to the breeding shed; they get more out of it if it's more hands-on."

Students agree that working for Maine Chance is a unique situation for hands-on learning experiences they might not be exposed to in commercial breeding operations.

"You have the opportunity to learn on the job rather than be expected to already know something," said Ashley Meyer, an animal science senior.

"I chose Maine Chance because it's more flexible with my class schedule and lets me do a little bit of everything. I'm not stuck in a yearling or mare barn all the time," said Maggie Hitron, a senior studying animal sciences with an equine focus, about why she enjoys working at the farm.

Both students said sales are their favorite time of the year at the farm. Before yearlings go to auction, each student is assigned a horse to prep and show at the sale, giving them the opportunity to see the end product of their labors. While neither is sure where they will work after graduation, Meyer and Hitron believe the skill sets they have learned here will serve them well in the future.

The individual focus seems to be working out well for the horses, too. The farm made headlines during the Fasig-Tipton February sale when it sold an Offlee Wild filly for $22,000 despite the depressed sales market.

"I see our mission as research and teaching first. The last part is the horses ... a by-product of that is the Offlee Wild filly," said Bryan Cassill, assistant farm manager of Maine Chance Farm. "There is value in the whole program from foaling to sales prep."

All precedes from auctioned horses goes toward farm operation expenses.

While Maine Chance has historically been home to Thoroughbreds, the current program also includes Quarter Horses. Its two active stallions, both high point champions, are Medal of Valor and Slowly Passing Breeze, who are bred via artificial insemination to Thoroughbred mares to produce appendix horses for private sale. All horses in the program, including the stallions, are donations. Thoroughbreds are bred on donated seasons from local farms.

Cassill said Lexington breeders have become more supportive of the program in recent years, and he is grateful for every donated stallion season.

In addition to the breeding program, Maine Chance Equine Campus is home to many of the equine research studies conducted by Animal and Food Sciences and Gluck Equine Research Center scientists. Horses that are not sold at auction often return for participation in trials examining nutrition, physiology, parasitology and pasture composition. Upcoming projects include studies on amino acid composition in muscle, bermudagrass pastures, selenium intake, and nutrition of pregnant mares.

Unsold horses are also used for teaching undergraduates in the equine science and management program. Behavior and handling classes are a requirement for graduation, and those classes allow students to teach young horses to walk a course on a lead-line and older horses to lunge under a surcingle. Although there are several student clubs focused on competition riding, they train at private facilities. Riding classes are not offered as part of the science-based degree program.

With the creation of the Equine Initiative in 2005, plans were made to update and construct new facilities on the Maine Chance campus. Since then, a 10,000-square-foot teaching pavilion has been constructed for active demonstrations, and a nearby existing barn has been renovated inside and out to become a foaling barn and teaching facility. In addition, several buildings have been updated or constructed on the Spindletop Farm side of North Farm. There are future plans to build a learning center with classrooms and laboratories, two new research barns, and a livestock exhibition center.

For more information about Maine Chance Farm contact Laurie Lawrence, PhD, a professor in the University of Kentucky's Department of Animal and Food Sciences, at llawrenc@uky.edu.

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and undergraduate student in equine science.


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